|“to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” –St. John the Baptist, Luke 1:79|
St. John the Baptist Day
by Midnight Fremason
James E. Frey 32
My Brethren, one of the most commonly celebrated holidays of the Masonic calendar is St. John the Baptist day. Celebrated on June 24th St. John the Baptist day fallson the Midsummer’s day which is known as summer solstice, which is often marked by festivals, fertility rituals, and celebrations. The Summer Solstice occurs when the tilt of a planet's semi-axis inclining the southern hemisphere23° 26' toward the sun it orbits. This happens twice each year, at which times the sun reaches its highest position in the sky as seen from the north or the South Pole. This is the day that has the longest period of daylight. To understand the importance of this holiday it’s important to trace its origins in primitive man.
About 40,000 years ago Homosapien first arose out of the primate family and had a very distinct difference from Homoerectus and Neanderthal, the ability to think abstractly. In ancient times man’s survival was dependent upon primal urges, so if the wind blew their thoughts were to find shelter. These nomadic peoples engaged in daily hunting and gathering for self-preservation and were dependent on nature. In this primitive state, man held nature to be the greatest of the mysteries. These new abstract thoughts began to arise to understand why the wind blew, or what the sun and thestars might be, instead of just the instincts related to the elements.
Primitive people tried to explain mysteries in terms of their day-to-day lives, which allowed them to perceive the rising and setting of the sun as the greatest manifestation of nature. Its presence during the day warmed and comforted them at night, provided their crops with energy to grow, and kept away the wild beasts. The sun made their dailylives possible by acting as a guardian over them. So Sun worship was natural for men just struggling to understandand recognize basic understandings of the world. As different cultures arose elaborate mythologies were created to give meaning to the stars and planets as well as natural phenomenon.
The central question to understanding the sun was not is daily journey east to west but it’s slow travel from north to south and back again through the seasons. So the summer solstice became a festival of harvest and a celebration of new life. In as the same respect the winter solstice was significant of the end of the slow decline of the sun, the symbolic death that gave new life. The Greeks celebrated the story of Ceres and her search for her daughter Proserpine as a metaphor for fertility and grown in the Eleusinian. The Egyptians held the allegory of Isis, Osiris and Horus in this same regard to celebrate the birth, death, and resurrection of the sun. In the Roman Empireespecially among the soldiers the Rites of Mithras explained the solar mystery.
When Rome became predominantly Christian, the oldRoman feasts and festival days were turned from pagan festivals to Christian holidays dedicated to Christ or theSaints. So even today western culture retains its solarcustoms, but the origin of which is lost to most of us. The solstice dates once devoted to Apollo and Dionysus were now dedicated to the Saints John.
It was a common custom in the Middle Ages for the workmen guilds to place themselves under the protection of some saint of the church who represented their trades. Sothe fishermen would adopt St. Peter, the builders would adopt St. Thomas, and the mason guilds adopted the two Saints John. The Masonic guilds adopted the Saints John as early as 1450 in Scotland which dedicated with lodges to the Saints, creating Saints John Masonry.
"There is no historical evidence that either of the two Saints of the church were ever members of the Craft. But they were adopted as its patron Saints, after the manner of former times a good manner it is, too- and they have remained so in Christian lands. Lodges are dedicated to them, instead of to King Solomon, as formerly.” -Bro. Joseph Fort Newton
St. John the Baptist is held as a major religious figure in the Canonical gospels, the Qur’an, the Bahai faith, and Mandaeism. It is believed that John was strongly influenced by the Essenes who were an apocalyptic sect who often preformed Baptisms. He is prophesied about in the Old Testament in Malachi 3:1 "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts."
John is known as the one who first recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and then baptizes him in the river Jordan. John humbly requests to be baptized by Christ who in turn convinced John to bestow this favor upon him. Jesus refers to John as "a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light" (John 5:35)
John dies a martyr by denouncing publicly King Herod’s marriage to his niece Herodias, which is incest and in violation to Old Testament Law. Herodias convinces her daughter Herod’s grand niece to dance before Herod and seduce him if he brings her the Baptist’s head on a golden plate. Herod places John in a dungeon and gives him a chance to denounce his former teachings embrace the Roman Empire and claim Herod’s rule as legitimate. John refuses three times and is beheaded and his head served on a golden Plate to Herodias.
Josephus writes of a different reasoning in the 18thbook of his Jewish Antiquities chapter 5 about John “who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away of some sins but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion” This gives us a view of John as a revolutionary speaking out against Herod’s right too rule as well as the Roman government which was quite common at the time Josephus also states that the Jews believed that the destruction of Herod’s army was caused by God for this murder.
As speculative masons we see a clear similarity between St. John the Baptist and Hiram Abiff. Both man are celebrated in the fraternity as martyrs who died in order to preserve their integrity. The Grand Lodge of England adopted the holidays as landmarks for the craft in 1717. AsFreemasons we should hold these holidays to preserve a connection with the early men of antiquity. This is a direct relation to the earliest of abstract thoughts to understand God and the world around us. As time passed and man’s perception of the world changes so did these sacred days, to adopt the tenants of man’s progress but also to preserve the earliest understanding of light and life.
James E Frey, 32° is a Past Sovereign Prince and current librarian of Valley of Danville AASR. Founder of the R.E.B.I.S Research Society he sits on two Blue Lodge Education committees as well as a guest lecturer on Occultism and Esoteric studies in masonry. He is also a Member of the Oak Lawn York Rite, Medinah Shriners, and Golden Dawn Collegium Spiritu Sancti. He also works as a counselor with emotionally and behaviorally challenged children.